At 11pm on 18 January 2020, I sent an email to the World Afro Day organisation. That email contained one of the most meaningful and heartfelt letters that I’ve ever written. There were no drafts and no editing. The words I wrote, can only properly be described as my truth in its rawest form. Words that describe, the very foundation of who I’ve grown to be and what I aspire to become. I share those words with you now as an introduction and an insight into my brain at that moment so you can try to understand why my life has led to this. It went like this:
Date: 18/01/2020 23:00
Subject: Thank You
it’s Aluoch, the girl you met today. i just wanted to say a few things.
if you remember me telling you, i’ve grown up being one of the few if not only black girls around where i live. learning to come to terms with who i am and being able to love that aspect of myself has been one of the most difficult things i’ve ever had to do. it was a long journey accompanied with a lot of self-loathing and i lost people i considered friends along the way, as our differences were brought to light. most of them didn’t know how to deal with it and never stuck around, unable to understand and not willing to try.
i’m proud of the person i’ve become. i’ve discovered a newfound self-respect and love for myself that had never existed before because, previously, i didn’t want my blackness to even be mentioned, because it separated me from everyone else. in the frantic pursuit of wanting to fit in, i detached myself from anything that acknowledged race.
i eventually learned i could no longer apologise for being me anymore.
the journey is still ongoing: for example, i mentioned that i only went completely natural two months ago. it has been one of the most empowering and eye-opening decisions i’ve made. at that moment i realised that beauty and blackness can correlate, and they work together in the most harmonious way.
my journey is one of self-acceptance, in which i have emerged victorious. but this shouldn’t be the case for black children. it shouldn’t have to take me 17 years to establish a feeling of self-worth and value. and i sure as hell don’t want my kids and future generations of black kids to struggle with the emotional turmoil of wanting so desperately to fit in that you’re willing to sacrifice your whole identity in the process.
we shouldn’t have to apologise for being us anymore.
the conversation we had today moved me in a way i can’t convey to you in words. all i can say is that i’ve never had the opportunity to have a conversation like that, because as much as my friends have tried to understand my experience they will never share what’s it’s like to grow up as a black girl in britain. you guys, however, do.
and seeing you take that experience and transform it into a global movement built on the idea of self-love, with the goal of revolution, made me realise my journey is so much more bigger than me alone, and that there are other black kids out there who aren’t at liberty to say they have also discovered that same self-love within themselves.
i’ve always wanted to make a difference in some way. meeting you guys today was like it was predestined, and i’ve never been one to believe in fate. i knew one thing for sure when I left: i needed to get involved in World Afro Day.
i owe it to my brothers and sisters to speak my truth and tell my story. they need to know that coming from such a rich culture and heritage is something to embrace and revel in. that being black is the greatest blessing of all.
you have a vision, and i believe in it. there’s a message here that needs to be heard.
straight hair shouldn’t be the standard.
For context, let me rewind a bit…
Black Teachers Matter
I met the World Afro Day team at a NASUWT BAME Teachers conference in Birmingham in January. My dad is a teacher and he has always made sure, that we attend these events with him. I never really understood the motive or importance of this, until a few years ago. He sees it as an opportunity for us to be able to see and mingle with other black people because my brothers and I have grown up in a very white area and don’t often see people of colour.
I met Michelle and Dee, two of the World Afro Day founders at a stall, they had set up in the conference hall. Michelle mentioned to me, how she was quite surprised at how little people knew about World Afro Day and what it stands for? A split-second decision, alongside chance, led me to them and to one of the most important conversations, I will ever have in my lifetime. Here I was, talking to people, who share the same experience as me! For the first time in forever, I felt understood. Validated. Appreciated. These were black women, who had endured and survived. I could have spoken to them forever.
Let Me IN
When I eventually left them; I already knew I was ready to volunteer for them. I wanted to dedicate a part of my life for the greater good as a service to others. I felt a sense of duty, and the World Afro Day Team and I were united by one simple goal: we want to create a world in which our children and future generations of black kids don’t have to go through the same experiences, that we went through. That they can grow up in an environment, where their features are also seen as beautiful, rather than deviant.
Since our conversation in Birmingham, I’ve managed to have some, one on one time with both Michelle and Dee. They believed the NASUWT BAME event, was a great opportunity for them to raise awareness about the cause and to hear stories from people, about their experiences. One thing we all agreed on, was the idea that conversation is one of the most important tools, that we can utilise. Being able to engage people in a respectful way, without accusatory tones and demeaning language can have the greatest impact. With understanding comes acceptance and giving people the opportunity to understand can be so beneficial. But of course, there needs to be a willingness to engage in order to get anywhere.
Leaving a legacy
Where I live, a lot of people have difficulty grasping the idea of race and the experience of ethnic minorities in the UK because of a lack of exposure. Interacting with different cultures and types of people is a learning experience and an advantage for everyone involved. A more, multicultural society, means a better understanding and appreciation for a variety of cultures.
One of the most striking sentences from these interviews, was when I was talking to Dee, and I had asked her about the importance of the cause to her in particular and she told me, ‘This isn’t just a trend or some temporary cause. We are creating a legacy. World Afro Day will become a legacy without limits.’ This stuck with me and it is the reason why, I understood that this is so much bigger than us. This is for the generations before us, for us now and for the future. This will outlive us.
Naturally, I was curious to see what Michelle and Dee’s first impressions of me were, so I asked them. What I received wasn’t just a nice ego boost but something that meant a lot to me because it is the type of impression, I strive to create with everyone I meet. One thing that was common in both their answers, was the fact that, they saw a passion in me, that differed from other people. That I was, genuinely committed to the end goal. I had ‘honesty and authenticity’. I had reached this milestone in my life, where I was self-aware and self-accepting of myself and wanted that same experience for everyone else.
We need liberation, from the psychological slavery, that we have been subjected to; the idea that you are not good enough, because you don’t look a certain way. Humans are beautiful because we are versatile. Once you understand that there should be no apology for being you and staying true to yourself, you become free to be whatever you desire. No one can use your truth against you.
It is part of my nature to educate and engage. It is part of my nature to change the world.
My truth is in my words, and your words are the most powerful thing you possess. They can set you free.
Therefore, I have made the decision to speak.